Saturday, January 29, 2011

Adventure with a Capital 'A'

Tom has been diligently fulfilling his duty as chief navigation officer. Our original route was designed to meet several criteria including, speed, places we’d never seen, minimal border crossings, and road quality (the last being a key determinant of speed). Based on this, our route originally took us from Prague, across Poland, through Latvia, Lithuania and on into Russia towards Moscow. The long stretch of road that is the Trans-Siberian Highway would have predictably dropped us at the doors of Mongolia in about two and a half to three weeks. Predictably and, as it now turns out, boringly. Tom’s reassessment of the route, based on his cognitive acceptance of the reality of the venture, led him back to its real purpose which is, aside from fundraising, Adventure - with a capital ‘A’. His new plan will generally meet most of our original criteria, but is more 'A'dventuresome. We’ll now likely pass through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania Moldova (complete with freedom fighters), the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, in addition to Russia and Mongolia. The visa requirements are no more onerous and the roads not much worse, and the mere sound of these places is intriguing. Indeed, at a recent dinner I was led to believe by a trusted source that Slovenia is a very cool place indeed, but since Slovenia is so far out of our way we're unlikely to visit it (thanks Google Maps). I have also been told that it can be emotionally stressful flying through countries without stopping long enough to sip the culture. There is so much to see in this part of the world that drive by tourism can never do it justice - we will just have to return.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why We Drive

There are thousands of orphans in Chinese welfare institutions that have benefitted from Half the Sky’s programs. And there are many thousands more that stand to benefit with your support. Every dollar can and will make a difference. Every dollar donated via our handy donate button will go directly to helping give the girls and boys the loving care they need for a bright future. A simple click is all it takes. Contact us if you’d like to make a large donation or a donate to a specific institution or program. Half the Sky’s team will be happy to work with you. Come join the drive to make a difference. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Life's Soundtrack

Every road trip has its own rhythm and evocative songs that are forever part of the journey. Let’s see, Thelma and Louise had the ballad of Lucy Jordan, Easy Rider had Born to Be Wild, and Convoy had, well, Convoy. The challenge is what is the quintessential music for driving across Russia and Mongolia? Anything but ABBA or Kenny G. (China plays Kenny G non-stop, and I mean non-stop everywhere! Elevators, airplanes, toilets, busses, everywhere!) But the hard truth is that in America we know very little, and very little about modern Russian or Mongolian music. Some 75 years after Russia was leading the world in creating new music, it seems like all we hear in our neck of the woods are either the Red Elvises or Gogol Bordello.  Let’s see what the ol’ WWW has to say on the matter. Dang it! Moskva FM is playing Tina Turner - What’s Love got to do With It? NRJ, Shake your Booty remix, Radio 7, Senza Una Donna Zucchero and Paul Young, Gad - where’s Kenny G? I know he’s out there.

Novosibirsk is home to Radio Uniton, that’s kind of on the way to Ulaan Bataar, and the Top 40 there probably is a better representation than those bourgeois intellectuals in Moscow or St. Petersburg playing ’70’s disco hits. And it sounds like regular old Euro-Pop, boy bands, girl bands, disco with electronic beats. Perhaps the next international revolution in music isn’t going to come from Russia, I hope I’m wrong. 

Mongolian music has a couple of excellent international ambassadors. The first is Hanggai, a punk band out of Beijing singing and adapting traditional Mongolian folk music. Kind of Flogging Molly without the Flogging or the Molly. For something completely different check out Paul Pena’s Ghengis Blues CD and DVD. It’s proof positive that musicians speak to each other in a language all their own, but when they understand each other really amazing things can happen. 

As for our journey, we’re told the best thing is books on tape. The choices for which will have to be discussed in the next post. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011


One of the challenges of driving long distances is keeping oneself entertained. Those of us that grew up in the United States and are of a certain age (the age before airplanes turned into Greyhound busses) remember those fateful family road trips. Most things were bigger back then. Station wagons were bigger, families were bigger, the fistfights and arguments about how many bottles of beer had fallen off the wall were bigger - everything was bigger. It was that or we were smaller.

Then things changed. Not that this is a nostalgic whine, but somewhere over the generation that slipped between our childhood and our children’s, things became smaller. The world got smaller, our car trips became smaller, even Mount Rushmore got smaller. I base this on the fact that one of my kids said (after being driven from Boston to South Dakota on nothing less than an atavistic joy ride), “It looks kind of small, Dad.” Well, it was much bigger in North by Northwest.

But there are still miles of undriven road, unimproved road, unpaved road - out there. Those of us unwilling or unable to leave the back seat of our parent’s old Ford Country Squire crave the prospect of nothing but blue sky and endless rounds of I-Spy. Thankfully we have the breadth of Asia to look forward to. Roll on UB!